Despite an opening day victory, it seems fair to say Arizona is looking to “bounce back” against UTEP. The Wildcats were pushed to the limit by a diminutive Charleston Southern team until the final few minutes. If Arizona is going to fulfill its lofty preseason expectations, then it has some growing to do. But that's par for the course in November.
UTEP comes to town after a 20-point victory against Oral Roberts. The final score is somewhat misleading, as the Miners actually trailed five minutes into the second half before pulling away with a 20-3 run. UTEP’s 6’10” center, John Bohannon, led the way with 17 points. Chris Washburn, a 6’8” power forward, came off the bench to chip in 12 points.
The Miner’s have a decidedly stronger post presence than Arizona’s previous opponent, so it will be interesting to see how the much vaunted Wildcat big men respond. Arizona’s post players were mostly subdued in the opener; Sean Miller even resorted to a small, quick lineup at the end of the game, which was reminiscent of last season’s team. Familiar Face:
Tim Floyd will make his return to the McKale Center as UTEP’s head coach. His teams played the Wildcat’s tough while he was with Southern California. Expect the commentators to inevitably mention how Arizona picked up Derrick Williams, Momo Jones, and Solomon Hill in the wake of Floyd’s messy exit from USC for the trillionth time. Of course, in reality, Hill never signed with the Trojans and had already recommitted to the Wildcats prior to Floyd’s ouster. Brandon Ashley Standing Out:
Arizona’s two freshmen starters, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski, began their careers rather inauspiciously. The duo was a virtual non-factor, combining for just seven points and seven rebounds. Gabe York had his moments, but played limited minutes.
Meanwhile, Ashley asserted himself in a big way. He came off the bench to score 12 points and grab a team-leading eight rebounds. Ashley crashed the glass and attacked the rim, leading to 12 free throw attempts. It’s a little early for outrageous comparisons, but Ashley showed brief flashes of a certain other power forward who recently wore the red and blue—and who later developed into a lottery pick. Ashley has a long way to go to reach that pinnacle, but he deserves recognition for his performance. Without him, Arizona may have actually lost its opener. Prediction:
Considering the way the Wildcats’ first tilt went, this game no longer has the feel of a sure thing. UTEP has more size and talent than Charleston Southern. Still, I’ll go with the line of reasoning that Arizona needed to shake off its opening day jitters and will take care of business against the Miners. Arizona by 13 points.